Traffic in Dhaka. Arne Hoel/World Bank
Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, has been dubbed as “the traffic capital of the world” because of its chaotic traffic and frequent traffic jams. Some say Dhaka needs more roads, because only 7% of land is covered by roads in Dhaka, while in many developed capital cities it is more than 20%. That argument may hold some water.
For many years, many cities in the world did try to build more roads to relief traffic jams after motorization took place. However, no city has been able to build itself out of congestion. In fact, allocating more urban land to roads means you have to reduce the portion of land allocated for other urban functions, such as housing, industrial, commercial and entertainment. What has also been widely recognized is that building more roads does NOT reduce traffic congestion. It would actually induce more motorized traffic and thus create more traffic congestion.
Traffic congestion, air pollution, accidents – the negative externalities from car transport are not just a popular field of economic research, but also a daily arduous reality for millions of commuters around the world. However, there is more: carbon emissions and climate change may be a less visible externality from road transport, but the economic and social costs will be substantial and borne at a global scale.
When dealing with such externalities, pricing instruments (such as carbon or fuel taxes) are the policy response favored by economists: if car users paid the full cost of driving, they would adjust their driving practices and thus reduce the negative environmental and social impacts.
When President Barack Obama announced that the United States would cut CO2 emissions from its coal power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, he didn’t just talk about climate change – he was equally forceful about the local benefits that the regulations could bring. He stressed that those regulations would reduce pollutants that contribute to soot and smog by over 25 percent, reductions that could avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in children; and that the regulations would build jobs, benefit the economy, and be good for the climate.
Demonstrating the value of multiple benefits that result from many policies and projects can provide a compelling economic rationale for action. It can speak to broad constituencies, local and global, and demonstrate the climate-smart nature of good development. A new report prepared by the World Bank in partnership with the ClimateWorks Foundation – Climate Smart Development: Adding up the benefits of actions that help build prosperity, end poverty and combat climate change – sets out to do just that.
In 1999, the state of Odisha, India, was hit by the most powerful tropical cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean, causing nearly 10,000 fatalities and US$5 billion in damages. For the next decade, the government of Odisha and partners worked to identify and mitigate cyclone risk. When the similarly intense Cyclone Phailin struck Odisha in October 2013, the region counted 99.6% fewer deaths.
We cannot prevent a monsoon or cyclone from striking – and as population growth, urbanization, and climate change are on the rise, the frequency and impact of natural disasters will increase. But with innovation, collaboration and a better understanding of risk, we can build communities that are more resilient to natural hazards.
While we have not been significantly involved with such services thus far, a recently appointed mobility secretary in a big Latin American city has asked us for support on developing an approach to the shared taxi industry, as part of a "Smart Mobility" strategy for the city. In that context, we wanted to start a conversation on optimal strategies for cities to be able to welcome and foster such innovations, while still capitalizing on the opportunity to create value for its citizens.
Cities have been experiencing a moment in the cultural spotlight in the last few years. There is more discussion and even celebration of cities than ever before. Newspapers and magazines are starting websites dedicated to global urban issues, university researchers and technology companies are turning their attention to ‘smart cities’, and there are even popular documentary movies, reality shows and musicals all about city planning. India, still mostly rural, has just elected a new Prime Minister who promises urban redevelopment and ‘new-age cities’, and it is no longer shocking to hear that China's proposed urbanization budget runs in the trillions of dollars.
Why has this urban moment come about now? Several trends, some in the developing world and others in wealthier countries, seem to have converged lately. It is interesting to step back and examine these trends, before thinking about where we go from here.
When I told friends and colleagues that my new job would be based in Cairo, almost everyone mentioned the awful congestion in the city, and how I would be wasting a tremendous amount of time being stuck in traffic. And how right they were: When it comes to traffic, Cairo is one of the most congested cities in the world. Of course, the city’s residents already know congestion is one of the city’s biggest problems. What they probably don’t know is exactly how much it’s costing them.
If Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the Father of the Nation, visited Dar es Salaam today, there is no doubt he would be surprised at what the city has morphed into since his time. From less than one million people in the early 1990s, Dar es Salaam’s population has grown at an average rate of 5.8 percent annually to reach 4.4 million people today, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It is now estimated that the city will be home to over 10 million inhabitants by 2027.
The urbanization process in Tanzania is a tale of two cities, as illustrated by the recent growth of Dar es Salaam. At first glance, Dar es Salaam looks like a modern city with a panoramic skyline of tall new buildings. But this façade of the modern metropolis quickly gives way to sights of congestion in the city slums, highlighting the realities of poor urban planning and inadequate public services.
In 2000, Port-au-Prince and San Juan accounted for 62 percent of the urban population respectively of Haiti and Puerto Rico. Though they tied for number one in the world rankings as those urban agglomerations that had the highest percentage of their countries urban populations, they were by no means exceptions. Luanda had 57 percent of the urban population of Angola, while Brazzaville had 54 percent of that of Congo. The list goes on to include many developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
These remarkably high concentrations of urban populations in one dominant city were a long time in the making. Around 1930, when developing market economies had an average level of urbanization of 13 percent, 16 percent of their urban population lived in fourteen large cities (cities that had populations of more than half a million). Such high urban concentrations in the developed world had been attained in 1880, when its average level of urbanization stood much higher at 23 percent. The number of the large cities in the developing world as well as their share of the total urban population increased dramatically between 1930 and 1980, by which date they had 43 percent of the urban population, a number which paralleled that of the developed countries. However, the level of urbanization in the latter stood at 65 percent whereas developing market economies had an urbanization level closer to 30 percent.